Critters 4 (1992)

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I’m not sure when something passes from being homage to outright theft, but “Critters 4” skirts very close to the line. This movie, set entirely in space, has two sections lifted straight from “Star Wars” – one where the characters fall into a giant waste disposal area; and a group of soldiers later in the movie who are all dressed almost identically to Darth Vader. I wonder what they were hoping to achieve with this? Perhaps they wanted to get sued to generate some publicity. Perhaps it was all a huge coincidence and they’d never even seen Star Wars!

 

After the “to be continued” of part 3, Charlie gets trapped on the rescue pod sent down to save the last two critter eggs in the Universe. Off into space he goes, and we then cut to 2045. We get quite a lot of information, and I’d like to discuss it with you, dear reader, to show…actually, I’ve got no idea, but it doesn’t reflect well on this movie. So, we have the “Intergalactic Council”, who want those eggs. We have Ug and Charlie, who work for them as bounty hunters. All this happens in 1992-time.

 

In 2045 time, quite a few things have changed. At some point (presumably very quickly after the pod set off from Earth) the Intergalactic Council dissolved. Humanity, via the all-encompassing Terracorp, has figured out faster-than-light travel, and now not only completely dominates the galaxy but has had time to both build and abandon multiple gigantic space stations. None of this makes a lick of sense.

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A salvage ship picks up the pod, and rather than just sell it as scrap they’re contacted by Terracorp, who asks them to take it to one of their stations. The rep from Terracorp is Ug, our friend from the first two movies, only he’s got a different name and…

 

Sorry for breaking off that sentence. But I wanted welcome “Critters 4” to the Dropped Plot Thread Hall of Fame! “Critters 4” must have had a very odd genesis, as they introduce an absolute ton of things that are then completely ignored or glossed over. To whit:

  • The teenager on the ship and his Dad
  • Heck, any reason for that ship’s existence (salvage is just my best guess)
  • Why the space station was abandoned (they hint it might be another different evil alien species)
  • Why Ug went from space bounty hunter to Earth corporate guy
  • Why the captain was so desperate to get into the pod

The rest of it is just a catalogue of baffling decisions and stuff that just doesn’t make any sense, as the critters get out, multiply pretty quickly and go a’killin. Thrill to the creatures which are, at best, hours old knowing how to use a computer on an alien (to them) base, programming a route to get back to Earth (which they’d last seen as eggs)! Wow as no-one says “hey, should we get off this base maybe?” Be amazed as Charlie, who was once a space bounty hunter himself, proves himself too stupid to live on multiple occasions! Exclaim in delight as one critter gets frozen to death and his killer says “chill out”! Cheer at re-use of footage of Ug’s ship from part 2! Get wild at perhaps the worst soliloquy in movie history!

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This is by far the worst of the four, and it’s sad they left it on such a sour note, as the first two films were fine silly, sub-Gremlins fun. It’s got a decent cast – joining Terrence Mann and Don Opper (Charlie) are Angela Bassett, Brad Dourif and Eric DaRe – and sets re-used from 1982’s “Android” (as well as the Terracorp concept), which Opper also co-starred in, but it just feels like they were half-way through making a movie then had to change everything, for reasons unknown. If they’d gone camp with the stupid choices made by every character, then it might have been fun, but Charlie remains the sole comic relief and by comic relief I mean “appears dangerously stupid at all times”.

 

Perhaps the worst thing about all this is how irrelevant the critters are. The real ending is Charlie vs. Ug (spoiler alert, I guess?) and the critters themselves are ignored almost completely for the last twenty minutes or so of the movie. If anyone knows quite why this movie was so appallingly bad, please tell me because I’m annoyed by it all. Screw you and your stupid Aliens-meets-Star-Wars-meets-head-injury garbage…actually, the space station computer I liked, but two good jokes in this morass of crap is not good enough.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Swamp Volcano (2011)

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We return to the comforting world of SyFy Channel original movies with misleading titles. Okay, they do briefly visit a swamp at the beginning, and there’s plenty of lava, but no volcano. It has an alternate title, “Miami Magma”, which I suppose is a bit more accurate, only not as much fun.

Cleavant Derricks! My wife and I have been watching “Sliders” recently, a fine 90s sci-fi show that fell off a cliff of quality towards the end, and Derricks was one of the stars. He’s the responsible assistant to Brad Dourif, the evil oil company CEO, and is trying to get him to listen to some environmental people, or wait til the safety checks have been done, or something. You know how those characters are. Anyway, in another SyFy staple, they’re drilling where they shouldn’t, but I’m pretty sure this time is going to turn out okay.

Rachel Hunter is aiming for the “Brooke Hogan Award” for unconvincing scientists, a vulcanologist in this instance. Anyway, there’s a bit of confusion when it’s revealed her sister is one of her students, and her sister has a crush on Hunter’s research assistant Brandon (played by Griff Furst, last seen by the ISCFC in “Transmorphers”). So, here’s the confusion. Hunter is 40 and looks older; her little sister is 27 and looks younger, and Brandon is 29. But he says to her that she’s too young…I can’t help but shake the impression that the two women were written as mother and daughter but when they got Hunter they decided to make a very slight alteration to the script.

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There’s more casting weirdness – Dourif dies fairly early on in the film (presumably they could only afford to hire him for a few days) and then Derricks is bribed by the board of directors and takes over the evil boss character. It would’ve made tons more sense to have Derricks as the boss from the beginning and Dourif as the assistant – but then that would have taken out a few unnecessary scenes and the film’s already fairly short. Although we do get to see a super-rich CEO who knows how to adjust oil drilling equipment, so there is that to have some fun with.

Padding is a recurring theme in “Swamp Volcano”. About halfway through, we meet a couple of bikini-clad college girls who are about to take part in a wet bikini contest; and even though one of them sort of complains about having to do it, the film certainly doesn’t complain about getting to ogle the two of them. Anyway, the film spends a fair chunk of time with these two, and when the unleashed lava sends a wave of boiling hot steam over the beach, killing hundreds, you’re expecting at least one of these girls to survive. Nope!

But it’s not all dullness, exposed flesh and weird motivations. Perhaps the greatest death of all time is featured in this film! I kind of don’t want to spoil it for you, but when you see the tennis lesson start strap yourself in because it’s absolutely amazing. There’s also a bug planted in the evil CEO’s office which is so large, and has flashing lights on it, I’m surprised the people planting it weren’t ashamed of themselves. Talking of Cleavant Derricks, his comeuppance scene is properly out of left field, I guarantee you’ll see it and be “huh?”

In a way, SyFy Channel movies are dependable. You know what you’re going to get and how good it’ll be before you start watching it, and this is no different. This ticks all the SyFy Movie Mainstay boxes that I mentioned in my “Triassic Attack” review, and rips along at a fair old pace. Okay, not exactly quotes worth putting on the DVD cover, but it’s a decently entertaining effort.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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